Christianity at the Crossroads

by Doru Costache

No, you do not have to expect me to say that the current circumstances are new and that these days Christians must take some unprecedented action or to abolish their past. Neither should you expect me to say something like Christianity being in need of a radical reform today more than yesterday. My interest is in pointing out the need to retrieve something that we seem to have lost in history: our capacity to discern the times and assess our circumstances in a genuinely traditional manner. But let me be more specific.

Just recently, on Palm Sunday, our sisters and brothers of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt have been once again the object of hate attacks on the part of their non-Christian neighbours. And the day before more Christians have been put to death in Syria. And the day before that more Christians have been put to death elsewhere. And days before that a Catholic priest was slaughtered during the celebration of the eucharist in France. And I hear of cases of Christians harassed by their non-Christian neighbours in some parts of Sydney. All this because they, indeed we, are Christian.

I am not interested in deploring the weak media coverage of these painful incidents, the way it happens in some quarters. We, Christians, should know better than to expect the world to love us too much. Neither am I interested in pointing fingers towards those that persecute and kill our sisters and brothers. I am rather concerned with the lack of Christian wisdom which we exhibit when we, Christians, treat in a pathetic manner dramatic happenings such as those in which our fellow Christians are irrationally put to death or live their lives day by day under the threat of violent death—just because they are one with us, children and disciples of the same crucified Lord. I am concerned because the rest of us are indignant and outraged. I am concerned because, instead of toughening up, the rest of us whinge in the face of the senseless bloodshed and petition the indifferent and at times persecuting secular authorities to intervene and stop the massacre. And whereas it is not bad at all to take note of what unfolds under our very eyes, this goes hand in hand with expressions of sorrow at the loss of life and prayers for the souls of the murdered innocent.

I find all this outrageous, namely, the killing of Christians for what they are as well as the perception of other Christians about what unfolds. But my intention is not to join the chorus of those who accuse the killers. My intention is to draw attention to the ecclesial body in its entirety that, irrespective of the circumstances that led to their repose, the martyrs are martyrs. We do not pray for the souls of the victorious martyrs. We ask them to pray for us. We do not deplore their death as a tragic loss of life. We revere the innocent blood which reminds us that we are Christians and that this is how we live in the world, not by fooling ourselves that these—or any other—are times of peace for the children of the crucified Lord. When we witness the glorious passing of our sisters and brothers of all ages, young, mature and old, we must remember who we are: followers of the Martyr Lord, siblings of all the martyrs that flourished in various times and places, all victorious children of the Father of lights. Any other representation of the facts brings dishonour upon the names of the martyrs.

Something must have happened to us during the cosy centuries of the so-called Christendom. But the supposedly Christian empires are no longer. There is no modern state which claims to be established on the principles of the crucified Lord’s gospel. And if there is one which still claims that, we all know that that’s both hypocritical and blasphemous. We live therefore in times that are very much like those which our forbears have faced in the beginning and every other time when the disciples of the Martyr Lord have endured persecution and death. At the crossroads. But we are softened by our self-induced delusion that we have conquered the world, and that the Kingdom to come is already here. It is, yes, for the saints, but not for the rest of us, strugglers in an increasingly hostile world. We can no longer fool ourselves that things are all right and that what we need is just humiliate ourselves before some corrupt politicians and billionaires in exchange for money to build more churches. We can no longer fool ourselves that what we need is to ally ourselves with conservative parties and movements, irrespective of how Christian those forces claim to be. Moreover, we can no longer behave like NGOs that picket schools and lobby government institutions for civil rights. We can no longer hide behind our distorted sense of tradition. We should wake up. We should toughen up. The peace of this world is just an illusion —and we must wake up to Christianity. In the name of the crucified and resurrected Martyr, our Lord.

No, we are not supposed to lobby for the killing of Christians to cease. Neither are we supposed to deplore the killing of our innocent sisters and brothers. Instead, now, at the crossroads, we must relearn the skill of composing hymns and synaxaria to glorify the victorious passing of the martyrs from death to life.

27 November 2017 © AIOCS